Tell Me About It: "I'm dreading a holiday with my parents"
Kate Holmquist answers your life and relationship problems
Q Every summer my parents invite us to their villa in the south of France. It’s stunning and the children look forward to it all year, but I am dreading it this time, my husband even more so. I know how fortunate we are to have the opportunity, so hate to complain, but there are strains that get worse as the holiday goes on.
There will be at least a dozen of us sharing the house, as usual: my sister, who lives in the UK, with her husband and children, and my brother, who lives in the US, with his son.
We always start out full of love and anticipation. But soon I start to stress about the chaos. Each family gets one bedroom (the children sleep on blow-up mattresses on the floors or in a tent). The kids love it, as they all get along well, but having so many people in a four-bedroom villa without it descending into squalor takes organisation.
I spend most of my day cooking and cleaning. I like getting up early to go into the village for croissants, bread and fruit. Usually I pick up something for lunch and dinner as well because I like cooking, especially with the amazing ingredients there. This gives my parents a break, since they couldn’t do it all. But it does add up financially. My husband says the amount we spend on food for everyone would pay for a family holiday of our own.
This is what my husband wants – our own family holiday – but we can’t afford two holidays and I would feel guilty letting my parents down.
Yet I know the pattern will be the same this year. Everybody will start out tolerant and polite then, by day three, tensions will erupt. Last year my little sister and I had a childish row, which we still really haven’t sorted, because she took my sunscreen so I couldn’t find it. She’d headed off to the beach while I was tidying the house, which made me angry because she seemed oblivious to the mess.
My parents start to get tetchy too, and can be critical of my children’sbehaviour, even though they’re good kids. Last year my mother said they were “little bullies”, which they’re not.
My brother takes a back seat, not helping at all, like he’s in a hotel, but he gets on well with my parents.
He takes them out for meals, and pays for a couple of restaurant dinners for us all, so he’s the hero in their eyes.
Don’t get me wrong – I love my family and want to be with them, but by the end of the holiday I’m fed up.
A There are people who would regard your family reunion as their worst nightmare. Their advice would be: go to France, but stay in a nearby villa if you can afford it. On the other hand, it is a great strength that your family are close enough to spend time together like this, giving your children and their cousins a sense of belonging to an extended family, with all its foibles.
I did consult a psychotherapist, who pointed out that yours isn’t a psychotherapy question, although she did suggest that you ask yourself why you feel the need to do all the work. Have a think about what needs are getting met when you do this.
You’re a woman after my own heart, though, because I’ve been on many family reunion holidays of which I have beautiful memories and am feeling homesick just reading your letter. Of course there are tensions, every family has them and, while they may be unavoidable, how might you do things a little differently this summer?
Families fall into old patterns when they’re together, and you can begin to feel as though you never grew up. Was your little sister the scatty one? Your brother the family hero? You the caretaker?
Be that as it may, there is no need for you to do all the food shopping and cooking. Why not make a rota? You could set up a kitty for breakfast, lunch and snacks, so that no one family bears the cost.
Regarding the chaos, standards differ. Perhaps your sister would rather relax, then do a whizz around the house later in the day. You may find it difficult to let go of control, but if you do you will have more time with your husband and children.
Your husband would like your own little family to have a holiday alone – could you fill this gap by going with your husband and children on a couple of day trips or even an overnight? This would give you bonding time, and a breather. It would also give your parents time to regroup. You might even take advantage of the babysitting available and take your husband on a romantic little hotel break.
Regarding your mother’s comment about your children, she was probably feeling impatient with the ruckus. But you’re the parent, so let her know diplomatically that chastising them is your job.
I hope you enjoy your holiday more this year by changing the pattern a little, though of course it won’t be perfect.
I’d love to hear readers’ advice on this question either in the comment box at the bottom of the article online, or in emails to Tellmeaboutit@irishtimes.com, where you can also send questions for future weeks.